It started with the TV remote, then the cordless phone, then the Wi-Fi router and the Bluetooth speakers. The wires that used to tether us to the rest of the world are slowly disappearing – and for good reason.
They're the same reasons wireless clocks have become the most popular choice for people picking out a new synchronized clock system: convenience, utility, and simplicity. Wireless clock systems are suitable for a vast range of building types, are a snap to install, require minimal maintenance, and can actually be a cost savings over older technologies.
But there are a lot of wireless clock systems to choose from. Here are five factors to consider when evaluating your options.
Types of wireless technology
The first thing to know when selecting a wireless clock system is the selection you have to pick from, with wireless clock systems coming in three main varieties.
One type gets its time signal via radio frequency (RF). In a broad range RF system, the clocks center around a master controller that can be programmed to control more than just the time system.
Anywhere there is an open switch, RF clock systems can control aspects of your building such as lighting, and can connect to an audio device or bell system as well.
One variation from the RF variety is the Wi-Fi clock, which uses the same wireless network as your building's other digital devices.
The other main wireless clock type harnesses Bluetooth technology. Clocks that use Bluetooth keep synchronized time by creating a chain or mesh of connections – one clock communicates the time to the next clock, and so on.
Characteristics of your building
When determining which kind of wireless clock system is best for you, the type of building you operate is critical.
First, think about your square footage, because signal strengths vary between wireless clock systems. The weakest transmitters will broadcast a signal about 200 feet, while the strongest ones can reach several blocks or even further, sometimes with the aid of an external antenna.
Wi-Fi clocks operating on the standard 2.4 GHz frequency, meanwhile, typically have an indoor range of about 150 feet.
Bluetooth clocks, using class 2 technology, offer the shortest range. Their signal is limited to around 35-50 feet and that signal quickly becomes compromised by obstructions. This aspect of Bluetooth makes considerations over building layout and classroom configuration crucial.
Depending on the size of your school, you might need boosters or repeaters to make sure the time signal – whether it's via RF, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth – reaches all the necessary locations. A reputable clock vendor should be able to advise you on any such augmentation.
As for the age of your building, that is especially important for facilities on the extreme ends of the spectrum. If you're in an old building and you find yourself replacing failing clocks, it's best that you purchase replacements that will work in your new building when you move. Thankfully, there are hybrid master controllers that work with both wired and wireless clocks, allowing you to purchase clocks that will also work with the wireless system in your new location.
Ease of installation
For new buildings, clock installation will be one of your key considerations. When deciding whether you want a wireless system, it's important to factor in the cost of wires and building materials. Including labor, you can expect that to total $300 per clock with a wired system.
With wireless clocks, on the other hand, you're paying for the clock itself and the master controller (if the system uses one). That means no hidden labor costs. Once the network is configured, installing the clocks is a matter of hanging them up and turning them on.
Perhaps, if you connect the clock system to the bells, you'll call in a low-voltage electrician. Other than that, you can dedicate your time to other priorities when you have a wireless clock system.
Because they rely less on the building's infrastructure and have fewer moving parts, maintenance costs for wireless clock systems are far lower than wired systems.
Wireless analog clocks utilize solid-state components to move the hands around the dial, while legacy clocks rely on mechanical movements to adjust to the correct time.
The one thing that will require maintenance time, however, is battery replacement. That task is infrequent, though; battery-operated wireless clocks typically have multiple-battery packs, which last three to five years.
Cutting the cord = cutting costs
The final item on this list might be counter-intuitive, but a wireless system can actually save you money over the older technology.
As wired technology becomes more obsolete, fewer manufacturers are selling wired clocks, making the price climb as replacements become more scarce.
On top of front-end price considerations, you should also think about the ongoing cost of labor. Clocks with more mechanical parts that break down more often will require more maintenance. That's what's called a time suck. Anyone who's ever had to take apart a clock and put it back together can attest to that.
All in all, there are numerous reasons that wired clock systems are going the way black-and-white TVs and telephone booths. The question today isn't whether a wireless system is right for your school, it's more about which wireless system is right for your school.